Blondell Reynolds Brown

A victory for the underestimated

Yesterday in a lot of areas of Philadelphia, what I have no better or less cliched term for than the good old boys club was out in force. In areas where demographic change has left majorities and significant minorities without real representation, even historic enmities were set aside in the interest of preserving power in the hands of those who have long held it. In some races this was successful.

But I want to explicitly recognize the races where it wasn't.

Maria Quinones Sanchez, my boss, won reelection by over 20 percent without the support of most ward leaders or the city's democratic party machine. This is the same party that tells aspiring candidates to wait for open seats, because the party always supports its incumbents. Except in this case, when the incumbent is Puerto Rican and a woman and actually representing historically under- and unrepresented communities, and the challenger is deeply connected to that old boys club.

That framing may sound like oversimplification, and it's true that the election in the Seventh District was not only about race and gender and culture and class. But race and gender and culture and class mattered - they made Councilwoman Sanchez an outsider even as an incumbent. Speaking very personally, to me the deeper truth this uncovers is that you (women, disempowered minorities, progressives, poor people) will not win by playing their game. You will think you are one of the boys, and then when it actually matters - when power is challenged, when they can get away with it - ranks will close.

Maria won, handily, because she provides real representation to communities throughout her district and they cared enough to come out and vote for her. It's a direct rebuke of all of the worst of machine politics, and I hope people come to see it as an inspiration and a model.

I want to also say something about another dramatic victory by another woman who was shamefully underestimated, Blondell Reynolds Brown. Assessments of Councilwoman Reyolds Brown's chances painted her as weak, her seat at risk. Men I often hear talking - men who are involved with or follow local politics, and it's always men - almost uniformly imply that this is because she is somehow not a strong legislator, not 'effective'.

This is based on nothing. It's based on a tired, tired trope where men are allowed to judge women on their appearance as much as their performance and ideas and where an attractive women will always have her accomplishments undercut by insinuations that she did not get where she is on her own merits. And it's true that a lot of people in local politics at all levels did not in fact get there on their own merits. But it matters that the label gets stuck only sometimes, only to certain people, and looking at how and why involves facing how invidious sexism can be. I predict every man who talks to me about this post denies that sexism has anything to do with it. First take a couple minutes and seriously think about some of Councilwoman Reynold Brown's work supporting elderly people and children, on health and safety and the environment, and think hard about why you are comfortable assessing her priorities and work below every other male incumbent at-large Council member.

Yesterday she beat every single one of those at-large incumbents and candidates to come in first.

Congratulations Blondell and Maria. Let's keep proving people wrong and redefining what political power means in this city.

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